Although it isn’t close to being perfect, the visual effects are fine, and some of the slapsticks run a bit dry by the end, Clifford The Big Red Dog does what it says on the poster: it’s a charming, pure, and fun film for kids to watch and it brings a nostalgic feeling for those who grew up with the cartoon pup, like me.
Middle schooler Emily Elizabeth Howard (Darby Camp) meets animal rescuer Bridwell (John Cleese), who has a traveling tent of rare animals for “people who don’t want pets.” He gives her a red puppy that she names Clifford. What she didn’t expect was that it would grow to a ten-foot hound. While her single mom, Maggie (Sienna Guillory), is out of town for business, her uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) and she go on an adventure around New York to discover how Clifford became so big and how to get him back to regular size.
When they first announced this film, I’m not going to lie, I was a bit skeptical about it. I’m tired of making every single kid’s franchise or childhood cartoon into a live-action flick. I was afraid that it would be yet another mess like most of the recent ones have been. Nevertheless, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how fun and charming Clifford was. Of course, it is nothing out of the ordinary nor something that blows your mind, but it is something to pass the time, significantly if you grew up watching the cartoon canine. Most of its jokes and slapstick attempts are a bit childish, and I know this is aimed at a younger audience, but some of them actually work and had me laughing all through its first two acts, not so much in the last one.
Some of the reasons why its jokes work for at least most of its runtime is because the whole cast knows what to do with their characters. Keenan Thompson does his usual thing and works perfectly, Buster Bluth himself, Tony Hale, does the pantomime and cartoonish villain bit, and Izaac Wong delivers charm as well as a small dash of wit. However, it is Jack Whitehall who does the heavy-duty comedic work. His line delivery and body mannerisms are so risible that he can make you cackle with the dumbest or cringiest joke. He didn’t get much to do in Disney’s Jungle Cruise, yet here he is, technically, the man in the spotlight. Now it is time to get him cast on a dark comedy or satire to see his comedic chops shine even more.
As mentioned before, Clifford The Big Red Dog may be of little to no use for older viewers, but the kids will love it. Why? Because it is funny, pleasant, and sweet. Its last act and the latter half of the second run dry as the same gags are repeated once or twice, and it rushes to a conclusion because it’s getting past the 90-minute mark, but even then, it isn’t that bothersome, unlike other films this year. There are recently released, higher budgeted blockbuster pictures that don’t know their audience and end up with several tones that don’t match their delivery. This one knows its audience and does quite well for whom they are targeting, even though overall, it isn’t a complete achievement.